You owe me a debt of gratitude. In reviewing ‘BFI’, I have saved you from losing a precious forty-five minutes of your existence to the misery of phonic drivel. ‘BFI’, short for ‘Blue Forces Intelligence’ is an album by The Dragons, recorded in 1970 and released for the first time this month by Ninja Tune.
The pre-release hype describes the ‘Great Story’ that lies behind the album’s creation: The three brothers Dragon, (Doug, Daryl and Dennis) are unveiled as a trio of tripped-up surfer-dudes living in Malibu and working furiously after-hours to record their ‘psychedelic soul/ rock masterpiece’. I mean that says is all doesn’t it. If you weren’t getting the heebie-jeebies from the album title, then surely the proposal of a ‘psychedelic soul/ rock masterpiece’ sends you screaming for your Spinal Tap box set.
Anyhow, these ‘multi-instrumentalist sons of a symphony conductor and an opera singer’, have a great deal of trouble selling their album to a label. Which is strange really since you’d have thought an album as morale-crushingly average as this would have found a use in some Vietnam-era Abu Ghraib, destroying the resistance of its Viet Cong inmates.
The three DD’s get disillusioned because all these straight record execs, keep telling them their ‘spacey and weird, but also funky’ album is utter crap. They lope off into session work and, if you believe the myth, they all go on to be in the Beach Boys backing band. And ‘you can kind of hear that in their own sound’, as the press would have you believe. Yeah, ‘kind of’ being crucial to how you interpret that statement.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong and maybe it’s the reason that Brian Wilson has spent a good chunk of his life monumentally depressed, off his face on psychotropic drugs and hearing voices in his head. All of them presumably repeating, ‘Hey Brian, isn’t it strange how you can hear that way-out Dragons sound behind some of the most inspired and uplifting masterpieces of the Beach Boys?! Kind of’.
37 years later and the source of all this horror, the BFI master-tapes, lie quietly pulsating in rightful oblivion in the basement of Dennis Dragon’s home. Hidden, that is, until the day that Kev of DJ Food gives him a call and, ‘being a fan of all possible food-based puns’, asks if he can include the track ‘Food for my soul’, on a future ‘Solid Steel’ mix for Ninja tunes. And there you have it, as if at the opening of the musical Ark of the Covenant, we must look away from the eruption of screaming demons and evil sonic harpies pouring forth from the speakers. All because of a love of food-based puns.
‘BFI’, represents everything that went wrong musically in the late sixties and seventies; bloated ambition, walls of over-layered instrumentals, swelling chorals and pretentiousness disguised as a trippy careless, ease. The album reeks of musical shop-lifting with its cod-Doors allusions and could have done with a strong editorial hand in order to stop other parts sounding like a BBC sound effects tape; ‘Doctor Who/ 60’s psychedelica’. If you press me I’ll say the first two songs lead you into a false sense of security, and ‘Mercy Call’, the ninth track, does serve its purpose by providing some relief from the misery. However, other than that, the rest sounds like a struggle between Count Dracula and Austin Powers, wrestling for control of the Hammond organ.
Sifting through the compressed layers of dire lyrics on ‘BFI’ produces a few gems, but none shares the pertinence of; "I can’t believe that hate is real". Well Dragons, it is - and you too, reader, can share in this mind blowing revelation by popping on The Dragons and sampling a little of this ‘lost classic of psych-whimsy, Westcoast sexiness and serious musical chops’.